Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Rhapsody of Things as They Are

A problem with common core and quite frankly State standards as well is the belief that the direct disciplinary route is not only the "best" way to learn, but the only way to learn. I've been wondering about this for a long time as I know that I weave in and out of disciplinary knowledge, but more times than not,  coming to know (or unknow) is more nomadic than directional. I truly can't trace the way I come to know completely.

For example, I have been thinking about the blue light at the far edges of the horizon for a long time and was especially interested when I read A Field Guide for Getting Lost.  The language Rebecca Solnit used invited me to think, wonder.

Looking East. (M.A. Reilly, 2010)
Solnit opens the second chapter in A Field Guide for Getting Lost by writing:

The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost. Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us. It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water. Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this scattered light, the purer the water the deeper the blue. The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

Talking About Malcolm X (M.A. Reilly, 2009)
I wondered about the science of this passage, the intention of light getting lost and such.  I asked Rob as we are sitting outside having breakfast on our deck.  He is my first source for all things science and I read the passage aloud and asked, is this accurate? He insisted, rather emphatically, that light doesn't disperse. Waves don't disperse.  He then explained the loopy look of blue wave lights and the more staccato look of red wave lights using science terms and all I could think about is jazz.

Yesterday we visited friends, Ethel and Mark. Mark is a jazz musician. At one point we discussed the way improvisation happens like a good conversation and I found myself wondering if nature improvises.  Is everything determined? Is nothing determined?

This led me to read a bit more this morning.  Ward Cameron (2005) writes in Colours of the Sky:

When light travels through the atmosphere, it comes into contact with materials that scatter and filter out certain parts of the spectrum. These include atoms of oxygen and nitrogen. As light moves through the atmosphere, the blue end of the spectrum is gradually filtered out leaving a predominance of yellow light. This causes the sun to appear yellow from the earth's surface. As the sun travels greater distances through the atmosphere, more and more of the blue light will be removed...This scattering of blue light also results in another atmospheric phenomenon – a blue sky. When we look upwards, we are actually seeing the scattered blue light – the light that didn't reach the earth's surface.

As I read this I wondered about light as waves, remembering that as Rob spoke I was recalling earlier discussions and reading about waves, light, particles. Louis Bloomfield from Physics Central explains:

To understand why the air redirects primarily blue light, we have to look at the physics of light interacting with matter. Sunlight consists of countless tiny electromagnetic waves, each with an approximate frequency and wavelength, and each with a small amount—a quantum—of energy. Because of the discreteness of their energies, these basic electromagnetic waves have many particle-like properties and are known as photons of light.
The energy of a photon of sunlight determines its color, with higher-energy photons appearing at the blue end of the light spectrum and lower-energy photons appearing at the red end. The bluish photons also have higher frequencies and shorter wavelengths than the reddish photons. These differences in wavelength are responsible for the blueness of the sky.
Electromagnetic waves consist only of electric and magnetic fields, and they interact with matter by exerting forces on the charged particles in that matter. Through these interactions, matter can absorb a light wave and may then reemit it in a new direction, a process known as Rayleigh Scattering. That is just what the air particles do. In effect, the air particles act as antennas for light, absorbing light heading in one direction and reemitting it in another.
Josef Albers. Image for Command Records. Found Here.
Then I found a wonderful website, Causes of Color, which attempts to marry the aesthetics of color with the science of color. They organize the discussion of color into three causes: Light is made, light is lost, and light is moved. As I read through these pages I was thinking about Josef Albers--returning to subject matter I knew better, felt more comfortable with--something that might anchor the new. Albers's told us that color is understood through experience. He explained, "In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is - as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art."

Things are not what they are. Tentative perhaps, like this post?

Wallace Stevens's musing about the blue guitar and how things are changed as they are played on that guitar had me quickly leaving Albers and thinking instead about poets,  Picasso, and a lovely book of etchings I have by British painter,  David Hockney --his homage to Stevens an Picasso.  I took a bit of time to reread "The Man with the Blue Guitar" and was stopped by these lines towards the end of the poem:
...Morning is not sun,
It is this posture of the nerves,

As if a blunted player clutched
The nuances of the blue guitar.

It must be this rhapsody or none,
The rhapsody of things as they are...

Counting (M.A. Reilly, 2010)
The rhapsody of things as they are is an odd truth we fight bitterly, evidenced by the way our government--both federal and state--organize "content" as deliverable products.  We lack such imagination to imagine things are only as they are and what injustice do we serve to learners when we "train" them to believe solely in such nonsense.

Way always leads on to way.  Frost knew it and so should we.  The direct route may be economical at first blush, but nomadic tendencies are more representative of thinking, of wondering, of coming to know and unknow.  


  1. what a great model this post is Mary Ann.. of where natural curiosity can take us. if we are free to believe that things aren't as they appear. that they aren't as they have always been.

    this should be included in a field guide for getting lost.

    lovely Mary Ann.

    i'm currently reading: faith, madness, and spontaneous human combustion, by Gerald Callahan. Gerald is a scientist, pathologist and immunologist. he talks about immunology in ways i'd never explored. how it can teach us about perception, self-perception.

  2. I will add it to my must reads as it sounds intriguing. I love be unsettled with new ideas, new ways of seeing something familiar. I really do wonder about all of this departmentalization as a singular route. Doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

    Thanks for your ideas, your words. Always appreciative.


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